Good Work: Frantic Learner

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. -Mortimer Adler
My daughter shouted, “t-a-c-o b-e-l-l, Taco Bell” as she danced around the kitchen.  “I can read, I can read!”  Her unabashed pleasure in reading the label on her kid’s meal cola made us proud.  After struggling for a year (with what turned out to be vision challenges), she was finally beginning to read and she loved it.
Confronted with a steep learning curve as a new superintendent (and new to public education) I wondered how to sort the stream of information, channel awareness, and interpret alternate worldviews.  It was my first experience as a frantic learner—learning all day everyday, struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar.
Attending means to focus attention.  We usually associate it with listening, but attending in the new age means learning to sift the stream.  When Katie was in the second grade the world changed with access to the World Wide Web.  Her class faced a new challenge; rather than fighting over the four books in the library about ancient Egypt the class was able to cruise libraries full of information on the subject on the Web.  Suddenly it was a challenge to focus attention: to search, sort, connect, edit, and synthesize — skills we have not yet developed as adults.  The flood of information on the Web, on TV, in trade publications, magazines and newspapers, constantly challenges me to take control of my awareness and focus my learning.
Think about all of the new things you have learned in the last year – it is probably an amazing list.  Keep a journal (or write a blog) of weekly observations and what you learned from each experience.  When you focus your awareness, learning jumps out at you from a variety of sources.  Find out what you should be learning for this job and the next, not just for survival, but for the joy in learning, in connecting two different subjects, in mastering a new skill, in growing as a parent.  Be a frantic learner with ‘Taco Bell’ enthusiasm.
Good Work is a Sunday series about finding and doing mission-driven work.  It started as journal entries made while serving as a public school superintendent.  We’d love to hear about your good work.  

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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